Date: the 15th day of the eighth lunar month
According to the Chinese lunar calendar, the seventh eighth and ninth lunar months comprise autumn. The eighth lunar month is in the middle of autumn, and the 15th of the eighth month is in the middle of this month,so the festival is called "Mid-Autumn Festival." In autumns it is usually clear and cool and there are seldom wandering clouds in the sky, so the moon is particularly bright and clear at night. It is on the night of the 15th day in the eighth lunar month that the moon becomes full, so it is the golden time for people to enjoy the moon. The full moon is considered as a symbol of reunion. Therefore Mid-Autumn Festival is also called the Reunion Festival," and it is a traditional festival only second to the Spring Festival.
The Mid-Autumn Festival has had a long history, and offering sacrifices to the moon and enjoy the moonlight were very important customs. There was an institutional convention among the ancient kings that they should offer sacrifices to the sun in spring and to the moon in autumn. This custom also existed among common people. As the time goes by, to enjoy the moon became more importan, and the serious honoring ceremony turned into light-hearted entertainment. The custom of enjoying the moon on Mid-Autumn Festival was very popular in the Tang Dynasty. A lot of poems of some distinguished poets were odes about the moon. Activities concerning the moon became even more influential in Song, Ming and Qing dynasties. Up to the present time there are still many relics named "Praying-to-Moon Altar," "Praying-to-Moon Summerhouse," and "Observing Moon Tower." The "Moon Altar" in Beijing was built for the royal families to offer sacrifices to the moon in the period of Jiajing in Ming Dynasty. Nowadays the custom of offering sacrifices to the moon is replaced by the large-scaled and colorful activities of enjoying oneself with families and friends.
Like eating zongzi on Dragon Boat Festival and eating tangyuan on the lantern Festival, eating moon cakes on Mid-Autumn Festival is a traditional Chinese custom. The moon cake is round, which signifies "tuanyuan" (reunion; in Chinese "round" is "yuan" ), so it is also called "tuanyuan cake" in some places. Moon cakes are the essentials of Mid-Autumn Festival. Throughout the history the moon cake has always been seen as a symbol of good luck and happy reunion. On the occasion of every Mid-Autumn Festival, the whole family will get together, eating moon cakes, enjoying the bright moon and talking about everything they like. What a joyful scene it is!
The custom of eating moon cakes on Mid-Autumn Festival has had a long history in China. There are different versions about the origin of it, and one of them goes like this: When Li Shimin (or Tang Taizong, the Tang emperor, 566-635) was in power, General Li Jing (571-649) returned from his victory against Xiongnu (Hun, an ancient ethnic group in the north of China) on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month. At that time a businessman from Turpan (a place in northwestern China) offered some cakes to the king to celebrate the victory. Taizong took out the round cake and pointed to the moon with a smile, "I'd like to invite the toad (in the Chinese culture toad stands for moon) to enjoy the Hu cake (cake from "Hu"people, the way that people of the Han nationality called those of the ethnic groups in ancient China)." Then he shared the cakes with the ministers. Since then the custom of eating Hu cakes began to spread all over the country. There is also a legend that the later emperor Xuanzong had once enjoyed the moon and eaten Hu cakes with his favorite Concubine Yang (719-756). Li didn't like the name of "Hu cake," so Concubine Yang looked at the moon and said casually, "Why not moon cake?" In this way the name of "moon cake" was finally settled.
There are many types of moon cakes in China, and the recipes as well as flavors vary in different areas. It can mainly be divided into five types according to the producing areas: Beijing, Tianjin, Guangzhou, Suzhou, and Chaozhou. Each has its strong point. The stuffing of mooncakes is either sugary or salt; either meat or fruits. There are also some flower patterns and characters on the moon cakes, which makes them not only tasteful but also beautiful.
The poem "In the Still of the Night" written by the great poet Li Bai (701-762) in Tang Dynasty is so famous among the Chinese people that even a little child can recite it:
I descry bright moonlight in frout of my bed
I suspect it to be hoary frost on the floor
I watch the bright moon, as I tilt back my head.
I yearn, while stooping, for my homeland more.
The poem showed the exact feelings of those who are far away from their homes on Mid-Autumn Festival. They are not able to return to their homes and cannot spend the holiday with their families, so they can only enjoy the bright moon which symbols happiness and reunion and repose their good wishes in the moonlight.
Ever since ancient China, there have been a lot of legends and stories about the moon, the most famous of which is "Chang E's Flight to the moon." Chang E was the wife of Hou Yi, the hero who shot down nine suns in the ancient Chinese legend.It is said that she ate the elixir of life given by the Queen Mother of the Western Heavens without her husband's permission. Thus she turned into a goddess and flew to the moon.a second legend is the story of "Wu Gang cutting the laurel." Wu Gang was a person just like Sisyphus. He sought immortality and became a god, but was exiled to the moon for some mistake and was ordered to cut the laurel in front of the "Guanghan Palace" (the palace on the moon in the legend) every day. The Laurel was of over five hundred zhang (a unit of length equal to 3.3333 meters), and whenever Wu managed to cut a slash on the tree, it will heal instantly. So he had to repeat the hard work forever in vain. It is said that if you observe carefully, you can even see the Jade-hare and toad on the moon on Mid-Autumn Festival. All these legends have tinted the moon with some mysterious and romantic colors, and the children today also like to hear these stories from their parents when enjoying the moon.